These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Week 38: Jerusalem in a Week

Posted on May 28, 2012 by Derek Kwait

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(X-posted from my home blog, Yinzer in Yerushalayim)

This week really started last Shabbat afternoon as I sat in a corner of the Tayelet (promenade overlooking the Old City and East Jerusalem) reading the opening chapters of James Carroll’s Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Carroll begins the book by discussing the tension between the two Jerusalems, the earthly and the heavenly and how, when the two rub up against each other it generates “a spark that ignites fire.” He then describes the city’s importance in the 3 Abrahamic faiths, takes a tour modern Jerusalem (a chill went down my spine as I read his description of how “Jewish intellectual elite” gather on Emek Refaim as I sat in my apartment on that very street earlier that day. I mean, I know I’m smart, but that’s too much), then traces the history of violence and religion (i.e. civilization) from the Big Bang until the founding of Jerusalem. My sense from the opening chapters is that the entire history of this city is a variation on these themes: of violence and religion, doom and hope, death and renewal, put to the tune of the times.

As I looked look down at my page and read about how the Rock around which Jerusalem was founded has been used for sacrifices (animal, vegetable, and human) since it’s very founding, thought to be over 4,000 years ago by settlers of Jericho searching for higher ground to better defend themselves against violent thieves, I would occasionally look up to see that very Rock in its current golden-domed form in the distance, tourists leaning over the promenade railing to gawk at and take pictures with it in the foreground, and listen to Palestinian kids running up and down the stairs, playing, and laughing in the background, as I, the foreign student who has been here for 10 months and already thinks he’s seen it all, sat mostly unnoticed, curled up on a limestone bench in the back corner of one of the main promenades, exactly where he wanted to be.

The next day was Yom Yerushalayim. While this day goes by largely unnoticed in American Jewish communities, and, to some extent in the rest of Israel, it goes without saying that, here in Yerushalayim, the day celebrating the liberation/reunification of our holiest city is a huge deal. Popular activities on this day include any combination of saying Hallel, singing Yerushalayim shel Zahav, having barbecues, praying at the Kotel, and desecrating God’s Name by antagonizing the Arab residents of East Jerusalem (who have it hard enough as it is). I did the first three. After class Sunday was the first Pardes Yom Yerushalayim Alumni Barbecue. In addition to the many real Pardes alumni who came by that evening to eat meat were many current Pardes students, many of them (including myself) wearing “Pardes Alumni” T-shirts we got the week before. Since I am coming back next year, I told them then that I’d get a shirt next year instead, but they insisted I take one now. At the barbecue, seeing all my friends wearing the shirts, too, I realized being a Pardes Alumni means having a whole family of best friends that you know you’ll likely never see again from a community that exists nowhere else outside Jerusalem. So then I guess I will be an alumni after all. But aside from the huge shadow cast by the thought of an alumni in two weeks, the barbecue was great—in our modern evolution of the thanksgiving offering, I ate as least as much meat there as I did at the Yom Ha’Atzmaut barbecue, if not more. If I can assume the aroma was pleasing to God as it was to me, I know they were accepted.

Tuesday morning, I was on top of the world. A fantastic, high-energy community Rosh Chodesh service followed by a huge breakfast, combined with my great new haircut from the day before, plus all the other good things that had happened to me recently, including subletting my apartment for the remaining months on my contract and getting hired as the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) at Camp Ramah Wisconsin for the summer, had me feeling happy and giddy as I’ve ever felt by the time Gemara class started at around 9:45 and continued through the rest of the day.

Then I got home, checked my email and for the first (and please God the last) time time in my life my jaw dropped, my eyes bulged and I found myself in a completely paralyzed in a state of shock when I saw that Mr. Allan Goodkind had had a sudden heart-attack and died in his sleep. Mr. Goodkind was a tzaddik, and I don’t use that term lightly. At first I had heard of him and his wife as people some friends often went to for Shabbat. Then, one week, maybe about two years ago, I was stuck without a Shabbat lunch and my friends said I could come over to the Goodkinds with them, it would be fine. I demurred, but they insisted. When I got to their house, the warmth was palpable. Mr. Goodkind immediately shook my hand with that loving twinkle that was always in his eyes that makes you feel like he loves you like a son. Then I noticed the stacks of issues of The New Yorker and Time piled all over his living room and immediately knew that we would get along fine. Then came the meal. Some people don’t eat on Thanksgiving what the Goodkinds treated guests to on a typical Shabbat—Appetizer: warm pull-apart challah with dips, gefilte fish, and sometimes faux crab. Main course: two-kinds of chicken, turkey, beef and lamb kabobs, carrot kugel, green beans, and cholent. Dessert: fruit and at least two different kinds of cakes, but only if we sang for it first. I came back many, many times. Each time there was another eclectic mix of people, old, young, middle-aged, observant, Orthodox, non-religious, and all those in-between, all treated with equal amounts of love by Mr. Goodkind, who would always be sitting at the head of the table, wearing his black hat, and relating Torah to whatever subject came up.

But my favorite memories of him are from the smaller meals. Last year on Passover, when he asked me when I would be joining he and his wife for a Yom Tov meal, I mentioned the only meal I had free. He said he’d speak to his wife and let me know. It turned out, they weren’t planning on hosting for that meal, but had me over anyway so it was just the three of us. It was a dairy meal that was tiny by their standards but still one of the largest meals I had all week. We ate and talked for hours, then, before I left, they gave me lots of leftovers to take home, which I, wanting to emulate them, promptly gave the best parts of to a friend.

I remember once he said how he wrote a strong letter of protest to the pastor in Florida who was planning to burn a Koran. Another time he defended the Park51 Community Center in Midtown-Manhattan that became a Talking Point in the 2010 election season. He could lein any parsha on a moment’s notice and taught many others how to lein. On one of my last meals over his house, he had over the new Conservative cantor in town. They got along great and he offered to help him in any way he could and made him promise he’d come over again on a week when his wife could make it. He spent a little time learning at Pardes a long time ago and always asked me how my preparations for it were coming. He had an apartment in Jerusalem and constantly apologized to me that it wasn’t available for me to use while simultaneously kvelling over the growing family that currently lived there. Maybe a month before I left, he said he was invited to a wedding in Jerusalem in September and wanted to be sure we met up while he was there. We did. We met up and he gave me a clipping in The Jewish Chronicle he saved for me announcing my blog and took me out for a meal, and that was the last time I saw him alive. Now I really regret not getting a picture with him.

Though he used to be an English teacher in inner-city Chicago, Mr. Goodkind worked as mashgiach in the kitchen of the JCC after moving to Pittsburgh. I was looking forward to going back home and telling him I was going to be a mashgiach, too. I pictured the scene my head how after I told him, he would smile and his eyes would light up as he said, “That’s terrific!” like he did to any piece of good news, then he would offer to help me in any way he could and give me pieces of advice throughout the day as they came to him. I couldn’t wait to sit in the place of honor beside him at his Shabbat table upon returning, exchanging mashgiach shop-talk and swapping stories. Now that I can’t do that I am twice as determined to be the best damn mashgiach I can possibly be in his merit.

The first thing I noticed once I came out of my state of shock was that he was going to be buried at Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Every week after the meal, no matter the weather, he would escort us guests out of his house to the sidewalk. I had no idea where the cemetery was, but I was not missing this chance to return the favor. I looked up bus schedules and coordinated with a friend in seminary who was likewise touched by him to meet and go to the funeral together. The cemetery is on the very edge of the city. Standing there, it’s extremely difficult to believe you are still in a city—the place where Mr. Goodkind is buried is surrounded on all sides by rolling white hills with a staccato covering of trees. It’s almost a shame those who will be there the longest can’t enjoy the view. Against this backdrop, I got a stark reminder that bodies in Israel are buried in only a white cloth as I watched the men who had been accompanying his body and saying Psalms from the time it began its journey lower him into the ground. Then I got the special, though undeserved merit helping to bury him in Jerusalem soil. After the roughly 10 of us there had buried him, the man who lived in the apartment Mr. Goodkind so wished he could give to me gave a eulogy. He began by speaking at length about his goodness and love of Torah, then told us how during the many months he couldn’t afford to pay Mr. Goodkind rent, he would go long stretches of time too embarrassed to call him due to his great debt to him, yet, always, Mr. Goodkind would call him, ask how his family was, and forgive everything.

In the end there could be no doubt, Avraham Goodkind was the most aptly named individual I will ever have the privilege of knowing. May his memory forever be for a blessing.

Early the next morning, there was a baby naming at Pardes. Our fundraiser, Robby Grossman, had a new daughter on Yom Yerushalayim, and, amid much singing and dancing, and a few l’chaims, officially named her Bracha Ariella. “Ariella” after “Ari’el,” a name for Jerusalem, in honor of her birthplace, day, and his father’s deep love for Israel, though he himself was never able to live here.

Quote of the Week: Me: I feel like my hair should be a final exam for beauty school.

Laura: I think you’d make the girls cry.

Hebrew Word of the Week: עגול (“eegool”) – circle